Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Longer-Term Problem


I know we're all (rightly) paralyzed with fear and anxiety about the next few months, but allow me a moment for a longer-term worry.

I heard some of Biden's speech on climate change this morning. And I had two thoughts. First, it was (as far as a Democratic candidate goes) superb: a level of alarm and seriousness which is very welcome (and, yes, long over due). I doubt that Bernie could have done better.

But I fear he fell into a trap not specific to him, but broadly arising out of liberal politics. He said that if we reelect a "climate arsonist" (great term), more of America will burn, more will flood. But he seemed to imply that if we elect him instead, this won't happen. The horrible truth, of course, is that at this point 20-30 years of ever-increasing climate misery are already baked in. We're going to spend the next three decades paying for the last three decades of emissions (you know, the 50% of all emissions throughout history which were produced after we were thoroughly warned & had supposed begun to react).

This doesn't mean that reducing our emissions rapidly is not a priority; it has to be. But that's because if we don't act now things will be unimaginable—perhaps literally unendurable—in the second half of the century. We need to ensure a future for later generations. But the near-term present will be increasingly worse regardless. — Of course, there are things we can and should do to help the next few decades, adaptation and social strengthening of all sorts. But those are to live through the climate misery, not avert it.

Again: nothing Biden said was wrong, precisely. Certainly a vote for the climate arsonist is as immoral as it is possible to imagine—solely on these grounds, even aside from everything else. But he hasn't done anything to prepare people for the longer-term struggles ahead. I don't think that's a failure of Biden's; I think it's a problem with liberal democracy, which must sell people the idea that they will have a better life if they vote for us. Whereas now we have reduced ourselves to choosing between bad and worse for the rest of our natural lives.

Not now, not in the next two months, but soon, we're going to have to learn, as a political movement, as a society, to talk about these things. We don't want Joshua Hawley or Tucker Carson or Don Jr to get up and say in 2024, "you said you'd fix this!". We need to communicate to people the urgency, but also the length of the storm. This won't be fixed in four years, nor even in forty, although in forty we will make some serious strides (or else have dug our own graves). We need to learn to speak of care; of struggling together to survive the damage already done; of preparing for the long term. Because that's what we need to do, now.
Housekeeping: this is reposted from FB. Preparing it for blog publication, it occurs to me I've been nattering about this long enough that the tag is "global warming" and not the more up-to-date "climate change" — or the currently trending "climate emergency". What will we call it in a decade?  Just ordinary life, I suppose.  Or perhaps our long twilight struggle.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

A Pesitlence Isn't a Thing Made to Man's Measure

"Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.… When a war breaks out, people say: 'It's too stupid; it can't last long.' But though a war may well be 'too stupid', that doesn't prevent its lasting.…

"In this respect our townfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists; they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one dream to another, ti is men who pass away...

"They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free, so long as there are pestilences."

— Albert Camus, The Plague

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


1) The proper English term for the Jewish celebrations in early adolescence is hereby termed "b'mitzvah" (both singular and plural). This allows easy sentences like, "when are your kids' b'mitzvahs?" or "we've been going to a lot of b'mitvahs lately", to say nothing of gender-noncomforming kids.

2) The word ducking is now an intensifier, as in "I can't ducking believe Pelosi actually had the guts to start impeachment hearings", and "I hope that the GOP is willing to do its ducking job and convict". Easier on kids & Apple ducking lets you type it.


The English Language Academy

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Happenstance: the Print Edition

I assume most visitors to this blog know that I spent many years creating a graphic novel, and that over the past two years I have been serializing it online (you can read it here.)  Now I am trying to fund a print edition by running a kickstarter campaign.  You can learn more, donate and pre-order the book here:


Go have a look!

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

"But What Can I Do?"

A friend on facebook (who will be anonymous unless they say they'd like to be named) asked. re climate change: "But what can we do? I have yet to come up with anything we can do as individuals that could possibly help. Have anything?"

My reply:

"As individuals"? No. Nothing we can do as individuals is remotely equal to the scale of the problem. I mean, sure, drive less, fly never, get solar panels — all good things. But if everyone who cared did this it won't help. Only a radical restructuring of society and the economy can save us.

So what can we do? What we need to do is to elect politicians committed to a restructuring of the economy and society to a degree consonant with the problem. Not just Democrats; AOC Democrats, not Biden Democrats. (Along those lines: go to marches. Sign petitions. Give money. Make sure Jay Inslee is in the debates, at least.)

How do we do this? The only thing I know of, broadly, is to change the way people think. The best thing to do, I suppose, would be to find conservatives you know and convert them. That's tough, though. Second best? Try to convince liberals you know to treat the problem with the seriousness that is its due.

That's why I post on it all the time. If enough of us get that this is an emergency, one that will need to be solved by greater-than-WW2 style mobilization starting yesterday, then maybe, *maybe*, we can overcome this.

So talk about it, as often as you can stand or more. Be that annoying person who always points out that the house is on fire. And get everyone you know to talk about it.

If enough of us talk, if enough of us listen, then we won't be individuals any more, but a collective. And then maybe we can do something that can help.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

HAPPENSTANCE, pages 402-403

My graphic novel Happenstance — which I have mentioned & linked before on this (admittedly all-but-dormant) blog — continues to be published, two pages twice a week, here.  If you haven't read it, check it out!

Today's pages, however, are highly unusual: an attempt to (in Abel & Madden's marvelous phrase) draw words without the usual addition of written pictures.  It's part of a sequence that is interspersed throughout chapter 11, in which one of the characters sits with another in the hospital.  Intercutting between that and a conversation, I use different techniques to try to capture this experience.  Most of those techniques are visual.  This is linguistic — or, rather, linguistic-as-visual.  It's an old technique, of course: the first of the page owes much to the work of William Gaddis and similar writers; the one on the left is an example of concrete poetry, which is a whole form with its own traditions, etc.

But the result of this is that I am using more words in smaller fonts than elsewhere in the book. And the way the site that hosts the work works, I have to use smaller file sizes than the book was created in... and thus the words aren't always easy to read.  So I am reposting these pages here, full-size:
Click through to see it more clearly!

And if you haven't read Happenstance before, I hope you will check it out.  Just go here and click through!

(And don't overlook the helpful little "save my place" button on the bottom of each page!)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Poem of the Day: Notre-Dame de Paris de Gérard de Nerval


Notre-Dame est bien vieille : on la verra peut-être
Enterrer cependant Paris qu'elle a vu naître ;
Mais, dans quelque mille ans, le Temps fera broncher
Comme un loup fait un boeuf, cette carcasse lourde,
Tordra ses nerfs de fer, et puis d'une dent sourde
Rongera tristement ses vieux os de rocher!

Bien des hommes, de tous les pays de la terre
Viendront, pour contempler cette ruine austère,
Rêveurs, et relisant le livre de Victor :
- Alors ils croiront voir la vieille basilique,
Toute ainsi qu'elle était, puissante et magnifique,
Se lever devant eux comme l'ombre d'un mort!

— Gérard de Nerval (1808 - 1855)

And here is a translation by Guy Lionel Slingsby (from Facebook):

Notre Dame is quite old: one will see it perhaps
Still bury that Paris it saw at its birth;
But in a few thousand years Time will cause to collapse
(As wolves do to cattle) this carcass to earth,
Twist its tendons of iron, then with a deaf tooth
Chew its bones made of rock, which fills us with ruth.

From all over the world, many people will go
To gaze at and brood on this ruin thus purged,
But these dreamers, rereading the work of Hugo:
Will imagine they see standing there the old church,
Just as it was in its glory and power:
Like the shadow of death, the cathedral will tower!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Poem of Some Day That Turns Out to Be the Poem of Today

W. S. Merwin died today. (NY Times obituary.)

Here's a poem he wrote for the occasion.
For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

—W. S. Merwin

RIP. Baruch dayan ha-emet.

Friday, January 04, 2019

My Photographic Novel, Happenstance, Is Nearly 3/4 Posted! Start Reading Now!

A graphic novel I wrote & illustrated (using photographs and photoshop) has been serializing online for about a year and a half, now.  It's about two friends who change their religious views in opposite ways, but in dialogue with each other; and about the fallout from those changes in each of their lives.  I thought I'd pop up here and say it's still posting! You can go read it!  Two new pages go up twice a week, on Mondays & Thursdays.  It's nearly 3/4 up — I just put up pp. 332-333 out of an eventual 444 yesterday, and we're nearing the end of chapter 9 (of 12).  So click here and check it out:

The graphic novel to date can be read here: http://happenstance.thecomicseries.com/

If you haven't read it, give it a try; and if you like it, share it with your friends!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Poem of the Day: Four Strategic Lines

Four Strategic Lines

There, four strategic lines are anagrams.
I'm rearranging letters. A chaos features
in the rule, frames reason, grates a tragic,
rare formula. A strange aesthetic reigns.

Anthony Etherin